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The University of Southampton

Candle power wipes out bugs

Published: 16 June 2004

In recent years the consumer market for candles has grown dramatically, as candles of all shapes, sizes, colours and fragrances have been used increasingly in homes and restaurants to create atmosphere and enhance mood.

Now two researchers at the University of Southampton have taken the potential uses of fragranced candles one step further, by demonstrating that they can also have valuable and effective bactericidal properties.

The researchers, Dr Lindsey Gaunt and Sabrina Higgins, have discovered that adding essential oils to the candle can destroy bacteria such as Escherichia Coli and Staphylococcus aureus on surfaces. Working with Professor John Hughes in the Bioelectrostatics Research Centre, Lindsey and Sabrina have been testing different essential oils, such as orange, thyme, and eucalyptus, which when dispersed into the air and combined with the ions produced in the candle flame, all have a powerful bactericidal effect.

Where candle use would not be appropriate, for example in a kitchen, the same bactericidal effect can be produced by using plug-in devices combining the appropriate essential oils and ions generated by an electrical discharge.

According to Lindsey Gaunt, the candles and electrical devices could be as effective as liquid disinfectants, together with the added benefit of being able to penetrate porous surfaces and fabrics in a room with very little personal effort.

This unique combination of essential oils and electrical ions has demonstrated a remarkably powerful bactericidal action, with up to nearly 100 per cent bacteria kill.

Lindsey Gaunt and Sabrina Higgins will be presenting the results of their research in Tokyo in November at the annual joint international conference of the Institute of Electrostatics Japan and the Electrostatics Society of America.

Notes for editors

  1. Dr Lindsey Gaunt has worked in the Bioelectrostatics Research Centre since 1995, and was involved in developing the SmartSeeker technology. She is a Research Fellow of the School of Electronics and Computer Science and is currently focusing on the electrostatic applications of aerosols in health and environmental use.
  2. Sabrina Higgins is researching in the Bioelectrostatics Research Centre, and has worked on pesticides and the electrostatic applications of powder pesticides. Her current research involves the bactericidal effects of essential oils.
  3. The Bioelectrostatics Research Centre was established in 1995, bringing together expertise in Biological Science and Electrostatics. Research programmes include aerosol technology and electrostatic applications in health care.
  4. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for pioneering research and scholarship. The University has over 19,200 students and 4800 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £250 million.
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